Professor Helen Sword

PhD Princeton 1991


Trained as a literary scholar, I hold a PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University and taught for 10 years in the English Department at Indiana University before joining the University of Auckland in 2004.  I now work with academic staff from across the disciplines on a variety of teaching and research initiatives. I also maintain strong links to my 'home discipline' of literary studies and hold a fractional appointment in the English Department. 

Research | Current

I have published widely in the intersecting domains of modernist literature, higher education pedagogy, digital poetics and academic writing, including five books,numerous scholarly articles, and invited commentaries in international publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Times Higher Education Supplement.  My most recent books include Stylish Academic Writing (Harvard University Press, 2012) and The Writer's Diet (forthcoming in a new edition from Auckland University Press in 2015), which address the stylistic strengths and shortcomings of academic writing from across the disciplines.

My current book project, under advance contract with Harvard University Press, explores the human side of academic endeavour: How do academics write, and how do they learn to write? What factors influence their productivity? What practical and emotional obstacles do they face? What are their daily routines, their formative experiences, their habits of mind? What practices and principles set the most innovative academic writers apart from their peers? To date I have conducted 100 in-depth interviews and collected more than 1200 detailed questionnaires from academics and PhD students in 15 countries. My aim is to develop evidence-based strategies for helping colleagues from across the disciplines to write more clearly, confidently, engagingly and prolifically.

Teaching | Current

In CLeaR and at universities around New Zealand and overseas, I run courses and workshops on higher education pedagogy, academic writing and related topics.  In the English Department, I teach modernist poetry, mostly to undergraduates.  I am a champion of both 'research-informed teaching' and 'teaching-informed research' -- that is, scholarly writing informed by the same ideals of communication, creativity and craft that distinguish the work of our very best teachers.  

Postgraduate supervision

I have supervised postgraduate projects in both Literary Studies and Higher Education Teaching and am particularly interested in recruiting new PhD students to work in the cutting-edge field of academic writing and research productivity.  Academics who earn an advanced degree in this exciting interdisciplinary area -- which sits somewhere between Higher Education and Writing Studies -- are likely to find work as lecturers, consultants and administrators at research universities around the world.  


2013 HERDSA-TERNZ Medal for a scholar who has made a major impact on the tertiary education research environment in New Zealand

2013  Hood Fellowship, University of Auckland

2007 Teaching Excellence Award for Innovation in Teaching, University of Auckland 

2000 Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching (FACET), Indiana University

1996-97 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship



As Director of CLeaR, I am committed to nurturing a culture of pedagogical innovation and research-informed teaching across the University of Auckland 

Areas of expertise

Academic writing
Research productivity
Higher education pedagogy
Academic development
Modernist literature
Digital poetry and poetics

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Sword, H. C. (2017). Processing the writing process. Related URL.
  • Sword, H. (2017). Air & Light & Time & Space How Successful Academics Write. Harvard University Press. Pages: 280.
  • Sword, H. (2016). The Writer's Diet A Guide to Fit Prose. University of Chicago Press. Pages: 88.
  • Sword, H. (2016). ‘Write every day!’: a mantra dismantled. International Journal for Academic Development, 21 (4), 312-322. 10.1080/1360144X.2016.1210153
  • Sword, H. (2014). Dancing on the bottom line: an unruly cost–benefit analysis of three academic development initiatives. Higher Education Research & Development, 33 (4), 783-793. 10.1080/07294360.2013.863842
  • Sword, H. C. (2012). Narrative Trust. Times Higher Education Supplement, 36-41. Related URL.
  • Sword, H. C. (2012). Defuzzification. New Zealand Books, 22 (3). Related URL.
  • Sword, H. C. (2012). Zombie Nouns. New York Times Related URL.


Contact details

Primary location

Level 3, Room 311
New Zealand

Web links